Scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History have found fossils of 1.6 billion-year-old probable red algae. The spectacular finds, publishing on 14 March in the open access journal PLOS Biology, indicate that advanced multicellular life evolved much earlier than previously thought.
Discoveries of early multicellular eukaryotes have been sporadic and difficult to interpret, challenging scientists trying to reconstruct and date the tree of life. The oldest known red algae before the present discovery are 1.2 billion years old. The Indian fossils, 400 million years older and by far the oldest plant-like fossils ever found, suggest that the early branches of the tree of life need to be recalibrated.
“The ‘time of visible life’ seems to have begun much earlier than we thought,” says Stefan Bengtson.
The presumed red algae lie embedded in fossil mats of cyanobacteria, called stromatolites, in 1.6 billion-year-old Indian phosphorite. The thread-like forms were discovered first, and when the then doctoral student Therese Sallstedt investigated the stromatolites she found the more complex, fleshy structures.Paper. (public access) – Stefan Bengtson, Therese Sallstedt, Veneta Belivanova, Martin Whitehouse. Three-dimensional preservation of cellular and subcellular structures suggests 1.6 billion-year-old crown-group red algae. PLOS Biology, 2017; 15 (3): e2000735 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2000735
Less and less time for purely Darwinian explanations, but we digress.
See also: Plants moved to land earlier than thought
Stasis: Life goes on but evolution does not happen
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